With the festive season over and spring still some way off (it begins with the vernal equinox, on 20 March), the dark, damp days of British winter may be getting you down. Don't worry: there is a host of options for escaping for some winter sun. We've sought out some of this season's most appealing new itineraries for breaks over the coming month.
"Sun: The source of light and heat, and consequently of life to the whole world; hence regarded as a deity and worshipped as such..." Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
"One day you'll look to see I've gone. For tomorrow may rain, so I'll follow the sun."
"I'll Follow the Sun" by John Lennon and Paul McCartney (released in 1964).
Far to go?
It's with good reason that the Canary Islands are regarded as a classic winter sun destination. This Atlantic archipelago is as close as you can get to a near-guarantee of perfect conditions in January and February, with a four-hour flight. Daytime temperatures hover around 22C at the moment.
Monarch (08719 40 50 40; www. monarch.co.uk), Thomas Cook Airlines (0871 230 2406; www.fly thomascook.com) and Thomson (0871 231 3235; www.thomson.co.uk) have frequent flights to Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria and Tenerife from airports across the UK, often as part of package holidays.
Airtours (0844 871 6636; www.airtours.co.uk) has an extensive choice of packages including new family holidays this winter to Sunstar Resorts' Sun Tropical hotel at Playa Blanca, Lanzarote. A one-week break for a family of three sharing a room costs from £1,086 (£362 per person), covering flights from Gatwick to Lanzarote and all-inclusive accommodation.
Romance and culture
This season, Thomson has added Egypt's southernmost city of Aswan to its winter itinerary. So felucca rides on the Nile and the ruins of ancient Abu Simbel are now accessible at a reasonable price. You can expect a good seven hours of sunshine per day here and temperatures of around 24C, which is pleasantly cool compared with the roasting heat Aswan endures during the summer. Accommodation is at the Mövenpick Resort, sited on Elephantine Island about a 10-minute boat trip from the centre. A one-week holiday costs from £625 per person (based on two sharing, as are all other prices below) including flights to Aswan from Gatwick and accommodation with breakfast.
Combine a beach break with learning how to sail – and make for Oman. Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Resort south of Muscat offers daily programmes in association with Oman Sail, catering for everyone from experienced sailors to novices. The resort is set around a cove backed by craggy cliffs, and presents a wide range of water sports, as well as a large spa, six restaurants, three swimming pools and a private beach. Go now to enjoy temperatures of around 23C and to see hawksbill turtles coming ashore.
Turtle nesting and hatching takes place from January to June, when the resort's "Turtle Ranger" will advise guests on the best and least obtrusive areas to observe these creatures. Trailfinders (0845 050 5874; www.trailfinders.com) can arrange a week here from £1,499 per person (or less if you book by the end of January) including flights from Gatwick via Doha to Muscat on Qatar Airways, transfers and accommodation with breakfast.
Mexico's Mayan Riviera has become a haven of chic, five-star accommodation. The coastline has a tropical climate, which means that it is warm and humid throughout the year, with its drier season running between November and April. Right now, temperatures are around 25C.
BA (0844 493 0758; www.ba.com) flies twice weekly from Gatwick to Cancú* at the northern tip. A week at the Fairmont Mayakoba, which is set in lush grounds bordering turquoise waters, costs £1,382 including breakfast.
Plenty of action
Take an all-inclusive break in Jamaica. Virgin Holidays (0844 557 3859; www.virginholidays.co.uk) has added Breezes Rio Bueno Resort to its portfolio. Set midway along the northern shores of the island, the property has been built to resemble an old-style Jamaican village, with cobbled streets and a town square. It offers an extensive choice of activities from kayaking to windsurfing, beach volleyball, snorkelling and scuba-diving, plus two Olympic-size swimming pools. A week here costs from £1,386 including flights from Gatwick to Montego Bay, transfers and all-inclusive accommodation. Temperatures are currently around 27C.
This year, some specialist companies are featuring Zimbabwe on their itineraries. The political and social problems here are by no means over but, they argue, the country needs tourist income – and in return Zimbabwe offers wonderful game viewing in under-visited parks. Expert Africa (020-8232 9777; www.expertafrica.com) suggests combining a wildlife adventure with a trip to the spellbinding Victoria Falls.
You'll spend two nights at elegant Ilala Lodge at the Falls before setting out on a "Klipspringer Safari" that takes you to two of Zimbabwe's best game parks: huge Hwange (particularly rich in elephants as well as herds of buffalo) and the small and lush Matobo Hills (which is a safe haven for rhinos). You'll also visit the charming city of Bulawayo. The total 12-night trip costs from £2,545 per person including flights from Heathrow to Harare via Johannesburg, internal flights and road transfers, all game drives, all accommodation and most meals.
What Google will tell you
A skiing holiday in Pamporovo, Bulgaria, will find you high up amid the vast, deep green pine forests of the Rhodope Mountains. This is a gorgeous place, and the resort's 270 days of annual sunshine make skiing in Pamporovo a bright, cheerful affair. In fact, skiing holidays in Pamporovo treat visitors to the sunniest ski resort in Europe. ( www.inghams.co.uk)
What Google won't tell you – until now
Dr Sneh Khemka, medical director of Bupa International, says: "Getting away for some sunshine when it is scarce at home is actually beneficial for your health. We need sunlight to help us produce vitamin D, which increases the amount of calcium we absorb from our bloodstream, essential for keeping bones strong. Holidays are great for our mental wellbeing, too. Light stimulates a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which controls mood and sleep, and there's evidence to confirm that seasonal affective disorder can be combated by sun exposure. I always take a holiday in the winter for this very reason, and would recommend it to others."